Trevor Noah's life lessons: 'Second best is a pretty great place to be in'

Ahead of his return to the Abu Dhabi stage, the South African comedian explains what motivates him and how it's what you put in that matters

Trevor Noah says his career success is not defined by accolades. Reuters
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Trevor Noah’s UAE visits are becoming more than just show business.

The popular comedian is increasingly adding speaking engagements to his touring schedule, including appearances at Culture Summit Abu Dhabi in 2022 and Sharjah International Book Fair in 2021.

On Tuesday, he attended the closing day of the Hub71 Impact event in Abu Dhabi and on Wednesday, he'll perform at Etihad Arena.

Ahead of the show on Yas Island, he says his trips to the UAE and surrounding region are inspiring.

“You see the region changing and improving and growing,” he adds.

“And I think that's something that inspires me and that's why I keep travelling because I always want to learn how greater minds were able to apply themselves to achieve a goal that maybe seemed unattainable when they started out.”

Noah explains his career success is not ultimately defined by the accolades and the concert box office.

“One of the hardest lessons I've applied to my life, and I constantly have to re-up it because it's so difficult, is to understand the outcome does not determine the value of the inputs or the progress that I've made,” he says.

“I have to understand that if I live my life as an outcome-based life, then I'm constantly at the whims of the successes or the failures.”

Noah points to some of the unsung achievements of Olympic athletes as an example of that approach.

“One of the most inspiring and crazy stories for me is thinking of the 100-metre sprints in the Olympics,” he says. "Usain Bolt ran the race and dominated it for his entire career, and he would constantly break the world record.

“What a lot of people don't realise is the person who came second also broke the world record.

“We make it seem like that person didn't also break the world record when they actually also did. He may go: ‘Oh, you failed, you came second.' But I don't think he failed. I think he is the second fastest human being on the planet, which is a pretty great place to be in.”

Noah finished a successful seven-year stint hosting the satirical talk show The Daily Show in 2022. The show recently reinstalled Jon Stewart, the long-running host he succeeded in 2015, behind the desk.

In addition to his entertainment career, Noah also hosted the Grammy Awards for the fourth consecutive year this month and founded a non-profit organisation.

Based in South Africa, the Trevor Noah Foundation runs programmes focusing on youth education and leadership in his homeland.

“Whenever I'm thinking of leading or growing an idea, I'm understanding the fact that this may not be the end goal of where we are trying to go and that everything we are learning can be applied to something else, whether we know it or not,” he says.

“So let's move accordingly. Let's believe that everything we're doing may have a purpose and if we find it, we are lucky. If we don't, it may come at a time that we don't expect.”

Trevor Noah performs at Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi, on Wednesday; doors open at 6.30pm; tickets from Dh295; etihadarena.ae

Updated: February 28, 2024, 2:04 PM